Post-Qaddafi Instability in Libya
As Libyan rebels press for control of the state and the ouster of Muammar al-Qaddafi, join CFR's Robert Danin and Johns Hopkins's Daniel Serwer as they discuss troubles ahead in maintaining security and rebuilding a country emerging from forty-two years of autocratic rule.
JAMES LINDSAY: Thank you very much. I'd like to welcome everybody to this call. My name is Jim Lindsay. I am director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. I am joined here by Robert Danin, who is the Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow of Middle East and African studies here at the Council on Foreign Relations, as well as by Dan Serwer, who is professorial lecturer and senior fellow at the John Hopkin's School of Advanced International Studies. Dan recently wrote and published a Contingency Planning Memo on "Post-Qaddafi Instability in Libya," which I believe is currently posted on the CFR.org home page.
We're going to begin with a brief discussion with both Dan and Robert, and then we will open up for questions.
If I may, I'm going to begin with Dan. And my question to you, Dan, is if you could give us a sense of, from your perspective, where things stand in Libya right now and what are the policy choices that the Obama administration should be considering.
DANIEL SERWER: I think things stand in celabratory mode in one sense, but I think we have to be very serious about limiting the celebrations at this point, because with Gadhafi not formally turning over power or surrendering himself, he's essentially encouraging a continuing resistance by his loyalists, and that's a very dangerous thing to do that could lead to continuing fighting for a long time. We saw this kind of thing with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and it would be most unfortunate if it continues in Libya.
So far as the policy choices are concerned, my own view is that the administration is correct that American interests are not vitally at risk here in Libya, but we need to try to tilt things so that they come out right. And I think the first way to do that is a U.N. Security Council resolution that lays out the goals of what we're trying to achieve in Libya for the next few years. Those should be goals the Libyans as well as the international community can sign on to. I think that would help to shape the whole effort.
But I see a real need for the Europeans and the Arab League to step up as quickly as possible and in much greater volume, let us say, than the Americans. Their interests are more directly at risk. They have more to gain from this coming out right.
LINDSAY: Thank you, Dan.
Let me ask you, Robert, just to sort of anchor the other end of the spectrum. As we think about the events that are happening right now in Libya and whether they go well or badly in the future, taking Dan's points to heart, how significant is what's happening in the streets of Libya or Tripoli today for the broader picture of the Middle East? Is what's happening in Libya going to be significant for what we're seeing elsewhere with the Arab Spring or what is renamed the Arab Summer?
ROBERT DANIN: Right. Well, I think clearly what is happening in Libya will give new inspiration to other forces in the region. I think particularly in places where there is unrest, such as Syria, nothing succeeds like success. So the fact that Gadhafi will have been removed after this prolonged intervention will breathe new life into -- and hope for those who believe that Assad can go. So, clearly people will be watching, have been watching.
And I think they've also been watching because this is the first major intervention in the Arab world, post-Arab-uprisings, of the international community, and so how the international community behaves and performs, if you will, is also going to be scrutinized very closely.
LINDSAY: Fair enough.
With that, Operator, I'd like to open up the conversation, any questions we have from the people who are on the call.
OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.) Our first question comes from Josh Rogin with Foreign Policy.
QUESTIONER: Good afternoon, gentlemen. Thanks so much for doing the call. I'm wondering if you could speak to the issue of the release of the billions of dollars in frozen Gadhafi funds. This is something that President Obama alluded to today and that the Libyan TNC representatives have been calling for for months. What do you see as the holdup? What exactly are the legal hurdles? And you know, what can or should be done, in your view, to get this money to the TNC as fast as possible? Thank you.
LINDSAY: Dan, you want to take a crack at that?
SERWER: I'm not sure that I know all the legal hurdles. What I know is that the lawyers will throw up hurdles galore when it comes to this kind of thing. I do think that there's a requirement for not only a decision by the president, but I've heard recently that the Americans feel they have to go through the U.N. Sanctions Committee, and that can be a tedious procedure as well.
In my view, it's not so important to free up all 34 billion (dollars), or however many dollars it is. What's important is to begin a steady flow and to have mechanisms in place that can ensure the accountability and transparency of that flow, and that's not easy. And that's where the TNC has to take on some responsibility. I don't think giant amounts of money -- I've never seen a post-war situation that wouldn't have been improved by reducing the amounts of money flowing into the situation. Money can be poisonous in this kind of thing. The TNC does need a flow of funds; it shouldn't be a giant flow. It should be a reasonable and adequate flow.
QUESTIONER: Dan, just to continue on that theme, what is your assessment of how soon it will be before substantial oil revenues begin to flow into Libyan coffers?
SERWER: Well, I think we're talking some months to get things back up to anything like the previous levels of production. And the initial production may be going more into domestic requirements than into exports. It's the gas that really counts a great deal, and there, you know, I just haven't seen a reliable expert estimate for how long it's going to take. A great deal depends on how much destruction there's been, but a lot depends also on where the personnel are; are they available. I think the -- both the regime and the rebels seem to have taken some care not to destroy too much.
DANIN: I'd just like to add, I think we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves here. Oil companies are notoriously conservative, and Gadhafi has not yet fallen; a new government has not yet taken control. And it -- we will not see oil companies go back into Libya, let alone operate, until there is a new government in place that exercises a monopoly of force on the ground. And I think that is something that is -- that has yet to be assured.
We're ending one chapter, but we're about to open a new chapter that we have no idea what it's going to look like. We have no idea if we're heading for a unified government in Tripoli or if, indeed, we're going toward something very, very different -- a factionalized tribalesque situation. And if indeed we do see the TNC fail to exercise authority rapidly and Libya break down into factionalism, then I don't think we'll be talking about a functioning oil industry in Libya for some time to come.
SERWER: I agree entirely with that.
LINDSAY: Could I push you on that, Robert, and then get Dan to jump in here? When you talk about a factionalized Libya, are you worried about regional divisions or tribal clan divisions? What do you see as sort of the overriding fault lines in Libya that are likely to be exploited?
DANIN: I'm worried about all of the above. I mean, here is a country in which the grand leader, Gadhafi, by design gutted all institutions of governance and civil society. He was the state. He -- when he leaves, so, too, does the state in many ways.
Now, we've had six months in which the TNC has had some time to try to build up some nascent institutions, but that's hardly very much time. This is a very tribalized society. It is a factionalized society. The idea of "Libyan-ness" is something that you don't hear many Libyans talking about, and yet -- and let alone, the notion that they will exercise such an identity has to be demonstrated.
So I'm very worried about a Libya that could be divided along tribal lines, along geographic lines. And they've been united in what they opposed, but they are not clearly united about what they stand for.
SERWER: I'm mostly concerned about the regional division. I think that has real potential for factionalizing Libya. The -- as I understand it, a good part of the oil and gas resources are in the east. The east has felt disadvantaged under the Gadhafi regime. That's one of the reasons the rebellion occurred in Benghazi. And I think there's some real danger there.
I'm -- you know, the tribal thing, you know, if you talk to Libyans about it, they'll tell you there's no way, no how, that's going to cause as much difficulty as the foreigners claim. But I can tell you that that's always the view in tribal societies, or societies in which tribes are important. And yet, over and over, it's been demonstrated that people do factionalize along tribal lines, because when it comes to questions of personal security and protection, you look to family first.
LINDSAY: Operator, next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Shaun Waterman with the Washington Times.
QUESTIONER: Yes, hello. Thanks very much for doing this, gentlemen. I wonder if I could ask what you think the lessons that the leadership of NATO are going to draw from this -- you know, from what is beginning to look like, at least for the time being, a successful operation?
LINDSAY: Robert, do you want to go first?
DANIN: Well, I think it's probably -- as in any conflict, the military that participated will study what happened and look for lessons learned and problems to be avoided. This was an extraordinary coalition that was put together, that encompassed not only NATO but also countries from far afield, out elsewhere in Europe, and even from the Arab world.
The fact that the United States did not play the -- its traditional role in this coalition of really leading in the forefront, and in fact the way in which it withdrew its primary military assets early on, really forced other NATO members to play a greater role; and indeed, it brought some strains into the alliance.
But again, I think it's premature to declare victory here. Gadhafi's departure will be one very critical milestone in this, but if Libya turns out to be a unified, semi-representative government, then we can start to uncork the champagne and talk about the success of this mission. If on the other hand it turns out that having removed Gadhafi through military force with a very strong outside intervention leads to a failed state -- to overstate the case -- then I don't think we will be looking at this as a -- as a great success.
SERWER: I agree with that. And I think the -- on the military side, the lesson is one we had already learned, which is that air power combined with indigenous forces on the ground can be a very powerful combination. It was a powerful combination in Bosnia, in Kosovo, in Afghanistan. It works, given enough time and enough firepower behind it. The problem, as Robert suggests, is that it does nothing to build the state that comes after the conflict, and you don't even have the boots on the ground to begin to provide the assistance.
So it'll be interesting to see whether in this case we are able to overcome that disadvantage, in particular because the Transitional National Council is, frankly, a little bit more of a government-in-waiting and has prepared a little bit better, I think, than you've seen in some other cases. So I have -- I have some hopes that they'll get this situation under control, but it's only hope at the moment.
QUESTIONER: If I could just -- if I could just ask you to follow up on that, you know, looking at the downside, looking at the possibility that the NTC is not able to establish or maintain security, can you talk a little bit about the pressure there's likely to be on NATO to -- you know, to step up its intervention, to try and, you know, provide that security?
SERWER: There could -- there could be enormous pressure. I mean, it could -- you know, you could get a humanitarian catastrophe that would lead to serious pressures, especially in Europe, which fears immigration from Libya.
DANIN: Look, you already have American military officials talking on background saying that they believe that there is going to need to be boots on the ground of some form here. Now, clearly the president has made clear that the United States doesn't want to have its boots on the ground, and so I think we have the potential for a real behind-the-scenes tug of war within NATO to determine how we're going to stabilize this situation.
We've seen a lot of reports, over the last few months, about how poor the rebels are, you know, as a -- as a unified force. You know, you had weak rebels defeat a(n) even weaker army that was decimated by a lot of air power. Now they're -- you know, now they have to translate that into a force that can stabilize the situation on the ground.
And it seems that many military planners are quietly saying they believe it's going to take outside forces to help stabilize that, yet it's going to -- there's going to be reluctance to do so. I think that's why President Obama just an hour ago said that he will be looking to NATO and the United Nations to play a critical role. I think that's code -- I think that's code for having those various forces forged together, a peacekeeping operation in the most-Gadhafi era.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. And that -- and that was Mr. Danin just now?
DANIN: Yes, yes.
QUESTIONER: All right. Thank you both very much.
LINDSAY: Operator, next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Steve Tomo (ph) with McClatchy.
QUESTIONER: Hi. Hi, thanks for doing this. Could either or both of you talk a little bit about how President Obama has handled this from the beginning and how he's handled the U.S. role on this?
SERWER: Well, I think he's handled it rather well, to tell you the truth. This is not an easy situation. It's a situation where I don't -- I believe that American interests -- vital interests were not really at stake and -- but where the risk of allowing Gadhafi to do as he liked was a serious one from a humanitarian point of view. So he's so far, so good.
The real challenge, though, comes in the post-war period. I mean, that you can win a war having surrogates on the ground and using air power, I'm convinced that that's true. What you can't do is build a state. And I'm not convinced that the U.N. and the EU are going to step up to that even as well as they stepped up to the military action, and particularly the Europeans. They're completely preoccupied with their own financial problems at the moment, and I don't see any move to put -- (inaudible) -- on the ground in Libya.
DANIN: Well, I would say, I mean, the United States has done, you know, all right as far as it goes. I think what we've seen is the ambivalence that the president feels about this operation projected throughout -- on the one hand, wanting to do something ultimately backing into a humanitarian intervention and then getting a U.N. Security Council resolution that provides all necessary means, but then allowing that resolution to expand.
I fear the consequences of that, in that I think some of the parties that now -- who have subscribed to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, particularly countries like Russia, China, maybe some middle-weight countries as well, are going to be very reluctant to sign up to such a resolution in the future, because they believe that there was a bait-and-switch here, that they were brought in for humanitarian intervention and it turned into regime change.
And the problem is that, as Daniel has pointed out, if Libya's not really a key vital interest, what happens when we have to address what I would consider a greater U.S. interest in the region, which is Syria? We have put a lot of diplomatic horsepower into the Libyan Contact Group, which I think has been actually quite effective. But at the same time that means that the opportunity cost here is that there is no Syrian contact group right now. And so therefore. if we go to the U.N. and try to put together such a contact group and ultimately try to get the kind of intervention mandated as was done in Libya, it's going to be difficult if not impossible. And part of the problem will have been because of the way we behaved in Libya in this so-called peacekeeping or humanitarian intervention.
LINDSAY: Is it your sense, Robert, that what happened on U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 is one of the reasons why the Russians and the Chinese have been reluctant to endorse statements or resolutions on Syria?
DANIN: Well, I think they were there anyway. I think this has given them the pretext that they want and only fortifies their reluctance. I think the Russians don't -- you know, traditionally had vital interests, or what they believe vital interests, and had a longtime alliance with Syria and are reluctant to see that go. They've used the port in Latakia for their -- for their navy. So there's a traditional Russian-Syrian alliance there. But if they had any doubts before, I think the -- what has happened with 1973 has quashed those doubts.
SERWER: One thing I think that's worth pointing out as we talk about how Obama's strategy is viewed, whether it succeeded or failed on Libya, is to keep in -- I think for -- at least for those elements in the United States who wanted the president to do more and to do it sooner, the fall of Gadhafi, in their view, doesn't justify the president's strategy. It justifies their argument that if he had acted sooner and more decisively, Gadhafi would have been gone much sooner at a lower cost.
Now, that's a plausible claim. It's also an unprovable claim. But I don't think that it is an argument that is going to go away, and I would suspect in the weeks to come there will be arguments as to whether or not the president's strategy of "lead from behind" has been vindicated by Libya. And of course, as Robert points out, if Libya goes badly, I don't think anything is going to validate the strategy.
DANIN: If I can just take one more bite at the same apple, I mean, I think ultimately that this was a strategy that was designed by the White House to suit, really, domestic political needs. The intervention was not something that's very popular. We are already involved in two Muslim countries. The American people don't want to see the United States get involved, especially on the ground, elsewhere. And so the administration found a way to address what is perceived as a potential humanitarian catastrophe and square the circle with a minimal intervention. And as the president noted just now, there was not a single American casualty in this operation so far, and that really allowed him to proceed.
But even then, the polling did not suggest a great deal of support for this -- for this exercise. People don't really care as much. I mean, there's a certain fatigue. There's a sense that the United States cannot topple every bad guy that's out there, and Gadhafi's just another one of those bad guys. People want the economy improved. They have other priorities rather than slaying these dragons.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Bill Varner with Bloomberg.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Do you gentlemen -- either of you gentlemen see any figures in the -- on the Libyan scene who might emerge as leaders? Not necessarily within the TNC; is there anybody out there that the people can rally around who has any stature?
DANIN: Well, not in the immediate future. I mean, ultimately a figure will have to emerge, and often these figures do emerge in such contexts. But that's where the killing about a month ago of the former chief of staff had been such a blow because he had been seen as such a potential charismatic leader. But I -- you know, I defer to Daniel on this, but I think in the short term there is not a single figure that has emerged.
SERWER: No, I don't see a single figure. And I actually think that's a very good thing. I think at this point the most positive thing I've seen happening in Libya is the organization of the local councils, which are generating a kind of grass-roots leadership that no doubt will have to compete in elections eventually. And I think that's a much better pattern for generating good democratic leadership than having a general step in at this point. I think it would actually be a failure if we ended up with a new autocrat in Libya.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Luis Martinez with ABC News.
QUESTIONER: Gentlemen, if I could ask you, what do you think happened on the ground in Libya to lead to this quick turn of events? And do you think that the administration may have been caught flat-footed in how they react to something -- to the events there, given how quickly this unfolded over the last 36 hours?
DANIN: No, I don't think the administration's been caught flat-footed at all. My contacts with some both in the administration and in the White House, I think they've been very much involved. I mean, we realize that it's been the sustained air coverage that has allowed the rebels to be effective. It's not just, well, strikes; it's battlefield intelligence; it's the fact that you have Predators that are, you know, giving 24/7 coverage of the battlefield that's allowed them to move.
Now, the tipping point might have come a little quicker, but don't forget, you know, we still have to secure Tripoli. So, I mean, I don't think anyone is expecting Gadhafi to hold out here, but it still could be -- there still could be some considerable bloodshed before this is over.
SERWER: Nothing, really, to add.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Susanna Kim with ABCNews.com.
QUESTIONER: Hi. Excuse me if you've already touched upon this, but I was wondering if you could describe what will happen to the assets within the country, in particular those that have been supposedly hidden by Moammar Gadhafi and his family within the country and possibly even outside.
LINDSAY: Dan, do you want to take a crack at that?
SERWER: This is one of the big issues that the Libyans face, the TNC faces, is to reassemble the state assets. I can guarantee you that right now in Tripoli somebody is trying to privatize whatever assets are sitting in the Libyan central bank. I can promise you that they're privatizing land, they're privatizing offices, they're stealing computers. This is what goes on. And it can be a very difficult process of regaining control over state assets.
But it's just part of a game. And it's one of the reasons why some law and order is needed very quickly, because it's not just a question of petty criminality, it's a matter of dismantling the state, which in the case of Iraq was done intentionally by a stay-behind operation that was planned by Saddam Hussein. We can't be sure that that doesn't exist also in Libya. But even if it doesn't, the dismantling of the state, what little state exists in Libya, would be -- would be a great tragedy.
LINDSAY: Dan, could I draw you out on that, because in the memo you wrote for CFR on what comes after Gadhafi -- which, again, is posted online at CFR.org -- you talked about a number of these issues. What are the sorts of things that outside observers should be paying attention to to get a sense as to whether things are going well or ill on that front? What are the sort of clear warning indicators to pay attention to?
SERWER: Well, I mean, Libyans are going to know right away whether they can walk down the street and not fear large-scale violence. That's extremely important. They're going to know right away whether revenge killings are occurring, because bodies start showing up on the street without heads, arms and legs.
The price of commodities is important, and whether things are really available in the markets are a good indication, if things are available in the markets, that there's relative safety or at least the return of a minimum of safety. There are a whole series of indicators of this sort.
And people on the ground there are going to know right away. It's much harder for us to know from here exactly what conditions are.
But if we start hearing about, you know, a dozen bodies found here or there, I start worrying about revenge killings. If we start hearing about ministries being torched, I start worrying about the possibility of a stay-behind operation that's trying to dismantle whatever is left of the state. There are good indicators out there for all of these problems.
LINDSAY: Thank you, Dan.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Katherine Chumiac (ph) with NBC News.
QUESTIONER: Hi, there. Thanks for doing the call. And I know you touched on this briefly at the top, but could you go into a little bit more about how this impacts the larger region and how this fits into the larger arc of the Arab Spring that we've been seeing? Thank you.
LINDSAY: Would you touch on that, Robert, and particularly on what it means for Egypt, which is much larger in terms of population than Libya which is about, what, 6 or 7 -- 6 and a half million?
DANIN: Six and a half million. Yeah.
Well, I think there are two fundamental ways in which what happens in Libya is important for broader regional development. I mean, one is the demonstration effect that it has and the inspiration effect it has for people elsewhere in the region. They will see the images of Gadhafi's forces being routed and will take inspiration from that. That's been the hallmark of this -- of these uprisings throughout the Arab world over the last nine months, has been the fact that people have been reacting to local grievances but being -- taking inspiration from broader movements elsewhere in the region.
But Libya is also important for a second fundamental reason, which is this is the first place and the only place so far where the international community has interjected itself militarily. And there -- I think the region is looking to see how -- what kind of role the international community takes in the -- in the post-Gadhafi period. And it will send an important message about commitment to democratic institutions, peaceful transitions and that this wasn't just an effort to rid Libya of Gadhafi, but actually an effort to promote something positive in Libya and not just secure as well a Western oil interest in that country.
SERWER: I would add that I think we have to be very careful about what is taken as inspirational. If the inspiration is towards military action and violence, I would regard that as a very negative thing.
And I think in Syria in particular, the Syrians seem to have taken it in precisely the opposite direction; that is, it's a warning against violence. And they have redoubled their nonviolent (discipline ?), and I think that's exactly the right reaction both to Libya and to Yemen where violence has been very much a part of the scene. Admittedly, on the -- in the Syria case, the government uses violence, but the protesters, for the most part, do not. And I think that's very important.
On the question of military action, military intervention by the international community, frankly, I don't see any possibility of that in Syria. And I think it's been ruled out right from the first. And I just don't think it's going to happen. I don't think that it would be permitted by the Russians and others for the reasons Robert mentioned.
But I also don't think -- the local people don't want it. And that's important to appreciate, that the Syrians are -- seem quite determined to keep on a nonviolent path.
LINDSAY: Do you want to add some more, Robert?
DANIN: Well, I would just add -- I mean, we don't want to get too far afield on Syria -- only that there are arms being poured into Syria to anti-Assad forces, to Sunni forces. And so just as these episodes, these -- each story, the Libyan story is now -- we're moving from one chapter to another.
But these are long stories. I'd say Syria as well still has a long way to go. And what kind of peaceful denouement is in store is way beyond the horizon. And while I don't foresee a civil war, the longer this goes on, the longer it could break down into sectarian conflict. And at a certain point, if there is a real all-out civil war in Syria, then the regional reaction to it will change dramatically, I would expect.
LINDSAY: Operator, next question?
OPERATOR: (Gives queueing instructions.) Our next question comes from Nasser Wedaddy with the American Islamic Congress.
QUESTIONER: Hello, good afternoon. Thank you for doing this conference. I just wanted quickly to invite you to reconsider or recontextualize Libya's -- Muammar Gadhafi's full impact and putting it rather into the Sahel context, looking south rather than east. And I invite you a little bit to consider that given AFRICOM's level of involvement in fighting AQIM and ultimately stabilizing that area of the world, that from that perspective, the peace and stability and the post-Gadhafi Libya is not a marginal U.S. interest. As a matter of fact, it would be a central, vital U.S. interest. Otherwise one of the risks is the multiplication of failed states or even the expansion of the AQIM threat to marginalized and fragile countries. Thank you.
SERWER: Well, I agree entirely that it could become a vital U.S. interest, but any country that harbors al-Qaida could become a vital American interest. And you know, there are a lot of countries in the world that are candidates for that. So I -- you know, I don't see any will on the part of the TNC to even remotely be inviting al-Qaida in. They're very much pointed in a different direction, and I think we have to reinforce that tendency.
QUESTIONER: I'm sorry, there was a misunderstanding there. It wasn't so much that AQIM will set shop in Libya, but the impact of the flow of arms that already has been a problem complained about by the Malians, the Algerians, Moroccans, Mauritanians is -- that perspective in interfering with existing stated AFRICOM operations and objectives in that area of the world. Thank you, though.
SERWER: Yeah, maybe that goes a bit beyond my competence.
DANIN: No, it goes slightly beyond mine as well, although I think that the caller highlights one very important point that will be a real challenge for the TNC, which is that in the course of the fighting that's taken place, we have had Libyan army arsenals that have been raided by the rebels, and we now have a lot of very sophisticated weaponry that is floating about Libya: SA-7 rockets, their ground-to-air missiles. And one of the challenges for whatever authority exerts itself will be not only to pacify the situation, but then to reconstitute a monopoly of arms. And we want to avoid what we had back -- on a much grander scale, but in Afghanistan, where a civil war, you know, led itself to a -- to a failed state that allowed for groups to flourish quite well in the post-war aftermath.
LINDSAY: Operator, next question?
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from William Murray (sp) with EIG (ph).
QUESTIONER: Yeah, hi. Some of the questions have already been largely answered, but I guess I was interested in knowing -- there's a before and after question now in terms of U.S. Middle East policy. And I was just wondering if either of you could add a bit more in terms of kind of the big-picture issues. Moving forward obviously Syria's important, and so is the oil price. But the Obama administration now can't seem to -- I don't want to say they can't catch a break, but these problems don't get any easier. They get, as you were saying, even harder.
DANIN: Shall I go ahead?
DANIN: You know, I think you're absolutely right. I think the first challenge obviously is going to -- for the United States is going to be to see a peaceful transition take place in Libya that does not suck the administration in deeper than it already is. I think that's going to be the first challenge.
Clearly, the president doesn't want to put boots on the ground, and has held to that to now. But a situation that unfolds that is detrimental to the -- to such an outcome, you know, could pose a real policy dilemma. So in the first tier, you have what happened in Libya. And I think it's going to be difficult for the administration to internationalize this conflict.
We talk about the rebuilding of Libya and the vast oil resources. As I said earlier, I think it's going to take some time for those -- for that oil -- for the oil resources to be tapped in a way that allows for this to be paid for, which then raises the question: Who's going to be able to pay for all of this? Again, I think the president hopes to internationalize this, bring it to the U.N., have NATO take care of it, but that's the best-case scenario. I fear the worst-case scenario.
So the larger consequence is that Libya, as I suggested earlier, takes up a disproportionate amount of time and effort of the administration and distracts it from other key issues in the region that it also needs to be paying attention to, such as Syria, such as Yemen, such as the situation between Israel and the Palestinians -- the situation that's unfolding in Sinai today.
SERWER: I share that concern that the administration would focus too much on Libya. But anybody who told the president of the United States that he could initiate military action in Libya and then walk away from it quickly was making a serious mistake. It just doesn't work that way. And I think there's going to be some hard choices to be made.
QUESTIONER: Thank you.
LINDSAY: Operator, next question?
OPERATOR: Our next questions come from Matthew Lee with Inner City Press.
QUESTIONER: Yeah, hello, thanks. I just wanted to ask -- and I hope it hasn't been asked; I'm sorry, I got on late -- whether you think that these two U.N. envoys, al-Khatib and Ian Martin -- it was announced at the U.N. today that they are heading to Doha -- whether the U.N. and they have any role in this -- you know, they call it post-conflict Libya.
And also, Obama had said that he's asking the General Assembly to somehow support, you know, the new -- a new government there. And do you think that's concrete, or it's just sort of "rah, rah" at the -- for the general debate in September?
LINDSAY: Daniel, could I ask you to --
SERWER: I think the U.N. is the key player here, and it's the key player on the political side in avoiding fragmentation inside Libya. This is the kind of thing that the U.N. does, and I think it's really important that they do it.
I would underline also that "post-conflict" is a misnomer. Conflicts continue after war ends. This is maybe a post-Gadhafi, post-war situation that we're headed for. It's not post-war yet; it's not even quite post-Gadhafi yet. But it's definitely not going to be post-conflict. Conflicts will continue by political means. And the U.N. is the organization most of us think should be responsible for, you know, trying to avoid those conflicts becoming too marked and Libya too factionalized. Arab League will also have a role; the African Union may have a role; but the U.N. is really on the hook here, it seems to me.
LINDSAY: Daniel, can I draw you out on that? Because in the memorandum you wrote for CFR -- which, again, is available online at cfr.org -- you talked about the possible choices the administration could make once Gadhafi fell. And one of the options you spoke about was having an international peacekeeping force go in. What is your sense right now as to what the state of play is on that idea? Are we seeing any enthusiasm for it in Europe? Because, again, the moment of decision has arrived and, given everything you've said so far, which I agree with, that the next several weeks could be critical, in part because of the need to prevent violence from escalating, and the White House and the Europeans have had six months to sort of work through this issue -- what is the state of play?
SERWER: My sense is that it is not happening. I think the reasons have almost nothing to do with Libya, and almost everything to do with the European financial crisis and things -- and European ineptitude generally, frankly. But I see no sign that they're moving in that direction. And I think that's unfortunate. I think they should have by now assembled at least a hypothetical force that could be called upon if need be.
This all happened rather more quickly than people had anticipated, but I have no reason to believe that if it had been delayed for a month or two, that the Europeans would have been ready. This is one of the failings of our allies that they have a habit of not being ready when the time comes.
LINDSAY: But we're not seeing talk either of sending in troops or -- one of the possibilities you raised was paramilitary police, who are used to keeping order.
SERWER: I see no sign that they're taking that as a serious proposition, despite the fact that they've done it many times before. They've done it in Somalia. They've done it in Kosovo. They've done it in many places. And the need -- you know, it would only be done if the Libyans requested it, obviously, and, you know, we're not at that point yet. But to be prepared for such a request strikes me as the responsible behavior, and to be unprepared for it is irresponsible.
DANIN: My understanding is that the British have been quietly preparing very intensively for the day after. The British Foreign Ministry has devoted something -- you know, a large proportion of its resources toward preparing for day-after scenario planning. We believe that -- there are reports that you have both French and British paramilitary forces on the ground now that help advise and guide the rebels into Tripoli. So a lot of this takes place behind the scenes.
Obviously, there's always the need for more planning. But I believe that there has been some -- a great deal of planning taking place in certain capitals. That not enough has been taking place at U.N. headquarters is most likely, because the U.N., you know, has to be driven by some strong force to take action.
LINDSAY: Robert, do you see the Obama administration reversing its reticence thus far to put American boots on the ground?
DANIN: No, not at all. I think that the president is going to do everything he can to avoid putting American troops on the ground. I think especially as we near 2012, having said that he won't put boots on the ground, this would become a great political liability, but it's also because -- so there's a credibility issue that he will want to uphold, but also, again, we are extended in many other theaters of war and I think he's going to find any way he can to avoid putting boots on the ground.
LINDSAY: Different question. Would other Arab countries be willing to put peacekeepers on the ground in Libya?
DANIN: That's going to be a key question. I mean, we -- the key question, I think, is to what degree are the Arab states that have committed military forces to ousting Gadhafi done so because of their distaste for Gadhafi, and how committed now are they to the -- will they be to Libya once Gadhafi is gone? So now that Gadhafi is gone, will they feel that their objective has been reached and sort of what happens will become of lesser consequence, or will they feel vested in what has happened because of their involvement in the military -- the military option?
I think this is why the Libyan contact group, again, will be so important, and then the action -- it is quite fortuitous, actually, that we are in late August and we are heading to the U.N., because President Obama did identify in his remarks just at 2:00 this afternoon that he envisaged the upcoming General Assembly being devoted in large part to Libya. And so I think this provides a real opportunity here.
LINDSAY: Dan, did you want to jump in?
SERWER: Well, I would only say that the kinds of paramilitaries that I was talking about are uniformed paramilitaries. I've seen some of the British preparations, which are entirely civilian-side and not security-related preparations. Now, there may be thing that I haven't seen and that Robert has. But I think the political reluctance of the Europeans to put boots on the ground is just as palpable as the American reluctance to do so.
LINDSAY: Daniel, do you have any sense of anything that might happen in Libya that would persuade the Europeans to change their minds, since -- (as you had pointed out ?) before?
SERWER: Well, we talked at the beginning about this factionalization of Libya, delays in getting oil and gas production going because of tribal conflicts or regional conflicts. And I think the real chaos in Tripoli or those kinds of factionalizations that directly affect European interests in oil and gas might incentivize them. I can't be sure, but I would certainly hope so.
DANIN: If I could just jump in there, I mean, I think we have to just put this in its most broad context. I mean, while many believe that Libya is not a vital American interest, one of the key reasons we are involved there now is because Libya is a key European interest. And we are supporting our European partners here.
And one of the -- you know, there are two fundamental reasons, at least, that the Europeans are concerned about Libya. I mean, one is because of their energy resources and because of the dependency of key countries like Italy and France and Germany on Italian (sic) oil, but also the fear that this is Europe's southern border and that instability in Libya could lead to a northern migration across the Mediterranean, something that the European countries want to prevent.
So this is a very important country, and I've seen on some of the tweeting that's -- I did not mean to imply in any way that Libya is neither unimportant or what's happening there is unimportant. It's just many in the United States believe this is not a key vital interest. But one of the, you know, reasons that we are so heavily involved is because of our alliance with the European countries for whom what happens in Libya is central.
LINDSAY: Operator, we have time for one final question.
OPERATOR: Our last question comes from Jung No (sp) with Radio Free Asia.
QUESTIONER: Hi, thanks for your conference. I think many other dictatorship countries are looking at this Libya situation, to (collapse?) of Gadhafi's (regime ?). I think this is -- could be the -- some message to the another dictatorship country such as North Korea. So what's the message it could be?
And one more thing: The Libya and other dictatorship countries that have that relationship and the cooperation in many ways, so what's going to be the impact on their relationship? Their relationship and the cooperation could be keep going on? Thank you.
SERWER: Well, I think any dictator watching what's going on in Libya will probably react in two ways: clamp down even harder, but try to avoid provoking NATO. I don't think this is going to weaken Bashar al-Assad's desire to hold onto power or anyone else's. I think they're going to hold on even tighter and become even more problematic, but always trying to avoid provoking the military intervention. That's what they really fear.
DANIN: I think Daniel's absolutely right. I mean, I think the real hardcore dictators that still exist in the world today are going to look what happened first in Egypt and now in Libya and also in Syria, and the lesson they're going to draw in is -- from it is you show any conciliation toward your demonstrator and -- demonstrations and you open the door to potential ousting. And so the right thing to do is to be -- to be tough.
And I think in the Libyan case, there's also a sense of -- as there is in the Egyptian case, a sense of some degree of betrayal, that there was cooperation with the West, cooperation along -- on the nuclear deal when it came to Libya, a highly imperfect resolution to the Pan Am 103 case, but nonetheless a reconciliation was achieved. And yet in the end we wound up in the war with Gadhafi in which yet another one of his children was killed by a Western airstrike. And so I think, you know, Gadhafi today is probably saying to himself, why did I even bother trying to ever reconcile with the West? They were going to get me no matter what in the end anyway.
LINDSAY: That brings us to a close. I want to thank all of the people who were on the line. I want to thank Daniel Serwer and Robert Danin for their lucid, incisive analysis. You can get more of their thinking on cfr.org -- encourage you to check out the website. Everyone have a great day.
QUESTIONER: Thank you.
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